- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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Excitement always surrounds this matchup, especially when both teams are near the top of the Northeast Division. The Bruins are two points ahead of the Habs for the top spot in the division, and Boston is third in the Eastern Conference while Montreal sits sixth.
This will be the teams' fourth meeting of the season, with Montreal winning all three of the previous games, including a 3-2 overtime victory on Jan. 8 at Bell Centre. Boston led 2-0 in that game before the Habs mounted a comeback in the waning minutes to force OT.
Dating to the start of the 2009-10 season, the Canadiens have won eight of the past nine meetings, including the last five.
The teams could meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs, so the Bruins would like to reverse the trend starting Wednesday.
"We've got to play a strong game," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "We feel that our game, when it's at its best, should be good enough to beat them."
The Bruins are playing well of late so this is a good time for the Black and Gold to face the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.
"They have certainly given us some tough games," Julien said. "I thought the last game was a tough loss. We had a 2-0 lead with only a few minutes left, but we played well enough where we should have won that game. Hopefully [Wednesday] we come out and play a strong game."
There surely won't be many surprises in what should be a playoff-type atmosphere.
"They're a team that plays well defensively. Their goaltending has been good and in their D-zone they really smother you and make it hard for you to get some great scoring opportunities," Julien said. "They're also a team that the minute you give them a little space to score, they've got enough skill to do that. We have to be prepared."
After Wednesday's contest, the teams will meet twice more before the end of the regular season. By the time that last matchup rolls around on March 24 at the Garden, both clubs should be primed for the playoffs.
"It's the second half of the year and everybody steps up their game [in preparation] for the playoffs," Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. "We're pretty close pointswise and if we win, we lengthen that gap between us and that's what we want to do."
A key for the Bruins on Wednesday figures to be their power play. Boston's man advantage, ranked 20th in the league, has been spotty, including a brutal 0-for-4 in a 2-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks last Saturday.
Julien spent the first 30 minutes of Tuesday's practice at Ristuccia Arena working on the power-play unit. He tweaked his personnel and is looking for more grit.
On Tuesday, the Bruins' top power-play unit had Mark Recchi working the point with defenseman Zdeno Chara, while Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci worked the half wall with Milan Lucic doing the grunt work in front of the net.
"We're trying to make our power play better," said Julien, who has shuffled his power-play combinations throughout the season. "The last game we weren't pleased with our power play. We had a hard time getting in the zone and we couldn't win battles along the boards. We've tweaked our personnel around, hoping we can get better in regards to that."
While the Bruins are focused on the Canadiens, their week won't get any easier. The Bruins host the Red Wings on Friday night as part of a home-and-home that concludes Sunday afternoon at Detroit.
"It's definitely a tough week," Lucic said. "We've got to be excited going into the next three games. It's a big challenge for us. Montreal has always been a tough team for us to beat and for us to play against. We know what it's going to be like."
The game plan is simple. It's only a matter of executing it.
"We've got to focus on the task at hand and one game at a time," Lucic said.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.
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